Leonard Boyarsky Q&A

Some time ago, the TROIKA CHRONICLES had finally been given the chance to interview Troika’s Leonard Boyarsky. He has given us some insights on Vampire: The Masquerade – The Bloodlines. Here are finally our questions and Leon’s answers:

Troika Chronicles: At first it would be great if you could tell us something about yourself. For example, how did you get into the game industry and what was your first contact with RPGs?

Leonard Boyarsky: I started in the game industry as a freelance illustrator, and began doing contract work for a few different companies before I ended up at Interplay, which led to Fallout and eventually the creation of Troika Games.

My first contact with RPGs was through early attempts at playing D&D in my youth. Since I didn’t know anyone who knew how to play, my attempts were short lived. I really started to get into RPGs on the computer with games like the first Wizardry, and then when I got into the game industry I met a lot of people who were into P&P gaming, so I was able to finally get into some great Gurps and D&D gaming.

Troika Chronicles: When Tim Cain and his team started developing Temple of Elemental Evil they played Dungeons & Dragons regularly to get a feeling for the P&P game. Did you and your team play Vampire: The Masquerade before you started working on Bloodlines?

Leonard Boyarsky: When we began this project, only a few people on the team were what I’d call hardcore Vampire fans. But we all immersed ourselves in the books and started having meetings to talk over the finer points of the system/setting and how we’d bring it to the computer. We even tried a few PnP sessions, but the workload has been enormous on this project so that unfortunately got shelved rather quickly. I’d say as we get deeper and deeper into production, more and more of us have become experts on the rules.

Troika Chronicles: In what way is White Wolf, the company that created the World of Darkness, involved in the development of Bloodlines?

Leonard Boyarsky: White Wolf has been very supportive of everything we’re doing with the game. They were consulted early on to make sure that our vision of what we wanted the game to be matched up with what they wanted to see, and we’ve developed our story in tandem with their evolving plans for Gehenna. And, as I’ve said in many interviews, the story of Bloodlines is now officially part of the White Wolf canon for the end times.

Troika Chronicles: In several interviews and weekly updates you told us that you had to change some of the game rules because of the real-time combat system. Can you tell us what changes were necessary and why?

Leonard Boyarsky: Well, for instance, we needed to change how firearms worked. In the P&P system, it was a contest of rolls between your ranged combat and your enemies’ defense. In a game like ours, this was very difficult to convey – it made the guns feel broken and unreliable, even with a fairly decent skill level. We actually did start with a firearms system that was pretty faithful to the P&P, and it felt broken. So what we did was enable the player to hit whatever they successfully aim at, then we factored in the numbers governing your skill and your opponents’ defense/soak to determine the amount of damage you do when you hit your target. Your Ranged Combat feat also determines how long you have to hold your gun still before you’ll get an accurate shot. In addition, it also determines how well you handle guns in terms of things like the kick – the less your skill, the harder the gun kicks. Automatic weapons are virtually useless without a high enough skill level.

I can go down the list of quite a number of changes we’ve made, but they’re all basically the same story – we started with a very faithful adaptation of the rules, and made changes where necessary to make sure we were delivering a fun-playing experience that stayed true to the essence of the game, if not the specifics.

Troika Chronicles: What skills and disciplines are available to the PC and how do they deviate from the P&P rules? Could you give us some examples of how the disciplines were realized in The Source engine?

Leonard Boyarsky: The disciplines we’ve included are geared towards the needs of our game. For instance, we didn’t include earth meld, as that would be near impossible in this engine. As far as skills are concerned, the same factors were considered. So we’ve included your persuasion, seduction, intimidation, lock-picking, stealth, hacking, etc, everything you’d expect from an RPG. However, we didn’t include things like law and science as they didn’t fit with the things called for by the story of Bloodlines.

It’s hard to convey the coolness of a lot of the disciplines by just talking about them, but two of the cooler implementations would have to be Beckoning Spectral Wolves where a giant wolf comes to your aid to disembowel your enemies, or that old standby favorite, Blood Boil, which causes your enemies to explode from the inside out.

Troika Chronicles: Will we be able to customize the appearance of the player character in the final game or will there be only one appearance available per clan and gender?

Leonard Boyarsky: There’s only one appearance per clan/gender except for the armor changes. Since most of the game is played in first person we didn’t feel this was an important area to spend resources.

Troika Chronicles: Can you tell us something about freedom of choice in Bloodlines? In other Action-RPGs like Deus Ex Invisible War, the choices you make are often almost irrelevant for the flow of the game, and the different endings were decided only minutes before the actual end of the game. Will decisions in the first minutes of playing Bloodlines have effect on the ending?

Leonard Boyarsky: This is a tricky question to answer. The main overarching storyline seems to steamroll you forward in Bloodlines, regardless of your choices, as you are caught up in something bigger than you. The freedom comes into play when your choices as to how you react to your circumstances, how you treat NPCs, and how you approach your quests in the game. Your actions can definitely change the outcome of some of the main story arc quests, but you are definitely given the feeling you’re involved in something beyond your control. Eventually you begin to see the culmination of the choices you have made, which will determine the outcome of the whole game. I wouldn’t say choices made in the first few minutes will have an effect on the ending, but by the middle of the game your choices are definitely going to affect your options as the game draws to a close.

Troika Chronicles: In Morrowind, the player was able to ignore the main storyline for a while to do side quests, explore the landscape, etc. How is Bloodlines’ main storyline enforced on the player? Are there plenty of sub-quests, perhaps even clan specific quests, available? Can the character freely roam the gameworld or are we confined to a certain area like in Deus Ex?

Leonard Boyarsky: Players are definitely able to focus either on the main story or the side quests at their discretion. There are plenty of side quests to do in each area of the game, and my choice in any given area is to either do every side quest I can find or concentrate solely on the main quest, or both. To get the next area opened up, I need to do the main story quests, but I can always return to previous areas to do any additional quests I may have missed. Also, as you get later in the game there are several quests that span different areas. There aren’t any clan specific quests, but some clans may have an easier time getting certain quests, or they may get different rewards, etc. The main difference is in how your character is built to handle the quests, depending on the skills and Disciplines he has put his points into.

Troika Chronicles: Although Bloodlines is a CRPG, do you think people who have played the Vampire P&P RPG will be happy with the computer experience?

Leonard Boyarsky: I think so, but you’ll have to ask them when the game comes out. Our goal has always been to make a game the Vampire and RPG fans would love to play.

Troika Chronicles: As far as I know, several members of the ToEE team left Troika when their work was done. What happened to the remaining team? Did they join the Bloodlines team or are they working on a new game?

Leonard Boyarsky: At the end of Temple we merged the two teams back into one, as Bloodlines is a massive game and takes a lot of resources.

We thank Leonard Boyarsky for answering our questions and wish him and his team all the best!!!

We also thank Shane “Hollywood” DeFreest for organizing the interview!

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